So I’m riding the Bolt bus from Boston back to NYC and the young gentleman next to me opens up his laptop and dons his noise-reducing over-the-ear headphones and proceeds to watch what I can tell is an episode from Breaking Bad. I, of course, am also wearing my noise-reducing over-the-ear headphones, but I have ditched the laptop for this quickie overnight trip and am resolved to write – by pen! - a little blog entry on the difference between watching an episodic dramatic TV show in its weekly format and watching it in a marathon viewing.
Naturally, a pen is nowhere to be found on my person. So I make the universal signal for “Would you mind taking off your headphones so I can ask you if you have a pen, please?” and the young gentleman next to me does so. And what a pen! It’s beautiful. And I seize upon this momentary gateway into human communication to let him know that I love Breaking Bad, and I ask him what season is he on and he says that he is on Season 3 and he has been powering through all the episodes since last week. He travels a lot as a sound designer for musicians on tour and he uses the time on planes in hotel rooms (and apparently on buses) to catch up on the TV series that his buddies have long since watched and have been talking about.
And voila! Breaking Bad has brought us together and we discuss the merits of powering through a whole season of a series in a compressed period of time, which is exactly what I’m writing about.
So thank you, Alex, wherever you are, for helping me form a few thoughts on the subject. Which are:
Watching a dramatic series on television in the week-by-week format, in the “old school” way, is like settling in for a long-term relationship. There will be highs. There will be lows. But keeping at it, especially if, like Lost, it lasts for six seasons and all of your friends abandoned it after the time-travel strangely appeared in Season 3, requires steady commitment and a willingness to forgive the bumps and bruises along the way.
A marathon viewing of an entire season (perhaps 16 episodes), on the other hand, can be akin to a passionate and intense love affair, and is suitable for the attention span and multiple distractions of today’s multi-tasking world. It takes no less commitment than the weekly viewing format, but it is now compressed from a nine-month period into a laser-focused, red-eyed and obsessively addictive one or two weeks.
I know. I have been there. I have done both the long, drawn-out relationship (Lost) and the quickie (most recently, Homeland). And I am here to say that both have merits and both have shortcomings.
First, logistics. Do you own a TV? This is not an absurd question. Many, if not most, of my friends have abandoned their television sets. If you do not own a TV, are you willing to wait until the next day, the next week, or possibly even a few months, for the episode that others have already watched and are talking about at the water cooler? (If there are still water coolers that co-workers gather ‘round to discuss such things.) Perhaps, like my Bolt Bus companion, you want to purposely wait because you don’t want to be watching what everyone else is watching. You dare to be different.
Also, are you willing to deal with the very real possibility that someone, somewhere (probably on Facebook) will give away the ending (SPOILER ALERT!)? “Oh my God, they killed Stringer Bell !” (oh, um, SPOILER ALERT!)
And, of course, do you have the TIME to sit for three or four hours? (not including bathroom breaks, the occasional foray into the kitchen in search for more junk food and the texting of what you’ve seen to your friends who have “been there, done that” years ago: OMG! THEY’RE ALL IN PURGARTORY!” Spoiler alert).
Conversely, do you have the cognitive capability to remember what happened week to week, even given those ever helpful “on last week’s episode” introductions?
And consider this: When your favorite character is killed unexpectedly, as does seem to be the trend (Lost, The Walking Dead, The Wire), will it upset you more if you have invested years on this person to only have some corporate executive decide to erase him/her from your life? Or will you be more unhinged if the character you got to know so intensely over the course of a short two weeks is suddenly obliterated right as you were about to go for a fifth hour?
More importantly, at least to those TV executives, will the decisions to kill off a favorite character entice you to continue watching, thus forcing you to choose a new favorite character to root for before he/she is kicked off the island? Or will it make you throw your TV/laptop/Netflix discs out the window and vow never to get invested in a television show again?
These are important decisions to ponder as you exercise your rights as an informed television viewer. Or, as Alex told me, “It passes the time.”
I haven’t even started with those mid-season “cliffhangers”.
I would love to hear your specific examples of how a long-term or short-term relationship with a television show has affected your life.